Preseason game number three is on the docket for tomorrow as we inch closer to hosting the Atlanta Falcons on September 8th. There's been a lot of buzz and excitement about the Saints' performance in preseason thus far against very mediocre football teams… and that's putting it nicely for the Raiders. As I type this they are currently down 24-0 to the Bears with Matt Flynn going 3-6 with two interceptions. Is it possible they already have a quarterback controversy? I do not envy their fans. Anyway, back to the Saints, this game is important because we'll likely see the starters for a lengthier stint and the competition is much stronger that what they've faced so far. The Saints have been eased into this preseason with two easier games at home, but now they go on the road against a sound football team in all three phases. Here's the five things I'm looking for.
1. Do the Saints survive without any major injuries?
Did you see this one coming this time? Oddly two preseason games have been a lot more generous to the Saints than training camp. Sure they've had their bumps and bruises, but nothing major when you consider they lost Joe Morgan, Kenyon Coleman and Victor Butler for the season outside of the games. Because the starters tend to play the most in the third preseason game, this one always makes me the most nervous so I just want them to survive.
2. Can the Saints slow down the Texans offense?
The Texans' offense is a tough nut to crack. Matt Schaub has had spurts of extremely high level play, but then he'll get hurt or get in a big slump. Still, his weapons are potent. He has one of the very best backs in the game not named Adrian Peterson, when healthy, and one of the best receivers too. Arian Foster won't be playing in this one though, so they'll go with Ben Tate instead who is very capable in his own right. Owen Daniels the tight end would cause major matchup problems for the Saints' linebackers, too. This will be a stern test for the defense, and I will be really pleasantly surprised if they look as good for four quarters against these guys as they did in the first two games.
3. How does the Saints' pass protection hold up?
The Texans were 5th in the NFL last season with 44 sacks. Yes, J. J. Watt all by himself is pretty much the reason for that. Still, paying so much attention to him leaves a lot of your linemen exposed on an island. This is a difficult front seven to block, particularly on obvious passing downs. I want to feel good about the line play going into the season and a good performance here will do the trick.
4. Who looks better between Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet?
At this point the 4th running back spot is a dead heat. Will the Saints keep Robinson or Cadet? In my last roster prediction I kept Khiry but I really believe it's 50-50 right now. Of course, you can't rule out that they'd keep both too. But each carry or touch is magnified now the rest of the way with this competition being so tight. Who will come out on top?
5. Does anyone stand out that's on the outside looking in?
The last preseason game almost never sways the coaching staff, regardless of who performs well. By then the tape and information they've gathered through camp and preseason is enough to make them 99% certain of the direction they're going to go with the roster. But this one really matters. This is the last chance for a bubble player or a guy that's a longshot to make an impression before he gets cut. This game is huge for guys like Bryce Harris, Chris Carr, Rod Sweeting, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Andrew Tiller and many more. The backup linebackers are still unsettled and there's a spot on this team to still be had for many of these guys. But this is it. Impress now or you won't be one of the 53.